From Texas to New Hampshire Slowly Via a 1940 J-3 Cub
Written by: Rand K. Peck
I’ve always known that someday I’d own a Cub. From the day that I soloed in Montpelier, VT in 1970, through years of flying large jets around the country, wherever I’d see one, I’d make an effort to look her over and speak with its owner.
While advancing through the flying ranks, all my friends could talk about were multi-engine, constant speed, turbine-powered twins, while I gravitated towards Cubs and DC-3’s. I’m fascinated by the history of aviation, those who made it and the clean lines of antique airplanes. My friends thought I was nuts to seek out a Cub. If I wanted that type of aircraft they argued, “at least get a Champ, you can actually go somewhere in it”.
Champ’s are great airplanes, I’ve spent many enjoyable hours in one, but the object of my desire was a little yellow Cub. I simply yearned to “putt-putt” around on a summer evening with the doors open and enjoy the fragrance of freshly mowed hay fields. Also, landing on frozen lakes in the winter would be fun too.
When I finally discovered and purchased my Cub, which incidentally I hadn’t flown one in 20 years, I really hadn’t anticipated a 1,600 nautical mile journey home. My quest lead me to Denton, Texas and a young Lear Jet pilot/entrepreneur resigned to selling his Cub to fund a business venture. Smart kid. If you’re determined to become a professional pilot in today’s environment, you’d better have a backup plan…or two.
To make my flight home even more adventuresome and in line with the age of the airplane, I decided to navigate by dead reckoning. I purchased the appropriate sectional charts, drew my lines, noted obstructions, planned fuel stops, noted magnetic variances, mileage and studied my route from Texas to New Hampshire to avoid metropolitan areas.
Not entirely in keeping though, I did purchase a handheld comm radio, to attach to the existing, externally mounted antenna. I also carried a GPS, just in case I got in over my head, but it never came out of my duffel bag. So with my wet compass, watch, pencil and chart, I was determined to find my way home to Brookline, New Hampshire.
Desiring to not waste the sellers time nor mine, we negotiated over the phone and used the Internet to exchange detailed pictures. When I arrived in Denton to inspect the Cub, the airplane and its logbooks were exactly as advertised; there were no surprises. I flew her a bit, inspected her closely with a mechanic, studied the logs, shook hands and finalized a deal.
With my insurance pre-arranged, I mailed the FAA the appropriately signed Registration and Bill of Sale, (forms 8050-1 and 8050-2) as the owner completed the annual inspection. While there, I met many of his friends who flew a variety of colorful taildraggers and offered welcomed advice concerning flying in the south. Early the next morning, I was airborne headed towards Arkansas.
I hadn’t flown too awfully far though, as moderate rain and low clouds forced my retreat to Denton, delaying my departure until later in the afternoon. Eastbound, past Lakes Lewisville and Lavon and huge communication towers, something I’m not accustomed to in New England, I followed Interstate 30 as I raced an early setting November sun to land at Mt. Pleasant in northeast Texas.
Just prior to the airport though, a little east of Sulpher Springs, I encountered a B-52. I was flying at about 1,500 feet agl when from the corner of my eye, I noticed this large green mass moving in my direction, that blended in pretty well with the ground below.
Camouflage does work! As the massive B-52 flew beneath me, the crew slowly rocked their wings in passing. With the vortices that that airplane must produce, I was thankful that I wasn’t below him. It’s the first time I’d ever seen the top of such a large airplane from so close!
Landing and spending time at Mt. Pleasant, Texas was even nicer than the name implied. The airfield was brand new and home to several large corporate jets. The pavement, the grass, the buildings, the fuel farm and hangars, even the yellow and white pavement stripes were new and unfaded.
The airport manager greeted me as if I’d arrived in a Falcon Jet, introduced me all around and made room in a hangar to protect the Cub. The next morning, with visibility less than a hundred yards in fog, he proudly gave me a personal tour of all the antique airplanes in the area.
I experienced a treasure chest of history including DC-3’s, Stearmans, Cessna 190’s and Waco’s, all in pristine condition. We enjoyed lunch downtown where I met a large contingency of the local Chamber of Commerce. As my host was, they were all friendly and very interested in my flight and certainly for my welfare while in their town.
By late afternoon, the visibility improved and sufficient sun remained for me to leave my new friends and attempt a flight to Hope, Arkansas. But not before the airport manager called ahead to assure that the local FBO could accommodate the Cub overnight.
The flight to Hope was short, only 88 miles and uneventful, but once again, landing as the sun slipped below the horizon. The scenery was all-new to me; spanning wide-open, underpopulated terrain, past Wright Patman Lake, into Arkansas by Texarkana and Texas A&M and on to Hope. Once again, Interstate 30 worked well.
It was a beautiful flight, somewhat hazy though with warm humid air and a low sun. I’d enjoyed the flight even more, as it was my first opportunity to fly the Cub with the doors open. At the end of day two, I’d only covered 223 statute miles, but what I didn’t know, was by the end of day three, with high humidity, rain and thunderstorms lurking, I’d still only be 223 miles out.
The hospitality that I’d enjoyed in Mt. Pleasant was matched in Hope. The people at the FBO, jockeyed aircraft in a large, brick WWII hangar and squeezed the Cub into place. I spent the next two nights in a Best Western, listening to large trucks earning a living and eating too much at a “Sizzilin Sirloin.”
But the people I met here were wonderful company and interested in my flight, as I watched the sky and patiently waited for improving conditions. I’m sure I drove the fellows in Flight Service nuts, imploring them for better weather, but they did a great job, advising me of windows of opportunity, allowing me to inch my way towards New England.
The morning of the fourth day, I was airborne at 0600 into a hazy, sultry sky, intent on a full days effort and many miles, before sheltering the Cub for another night. The density altitude was high and the cockpit moist with condensation, as the Cub struggled to lift my heavy duffle bag, filled with cold weather clothing and me, into the air.
My mistake was drinking too much coffee at breakfast resulting in a landing that otherwise wasn’t needed and took time. But not much. From Hope we flew northeastward, past Lowe, Arkadelphia, south of Little Rock, to Brinkley, and west of Memphis where I could see large, ominous thunderstorms massing for an afternoon assault.
We were heading northeast and they were blowing directly east, so I figured the Cub and I were safe. I was familiar with Memphis and its weather, but from the comfort of a color radar equipped B-757 with the help of a copilot and a battery of dispatchers, meteorologists and local controllers. Today though, it was just the Cub and me, as we skirted this weather and slowly flew on.
I’ve forgotten exactly where in Arkansas, but a planned fueling stop didn’t pan out, as the airport was pretty much deserted. Low on fuel, a local pilot told me of a private crop dusting field only 15 miles away that might be able to help. Upon landing, I was greeted by two large, snarling, German Shepard’s, just as the engine rumbled to a stop.
They successfully kept me strapped into the Cub, doors and windows closed as I contemplated just how I’d get my engine started and escape. I was rescued though and inquired about fuel as my savior directed me to a makeshift tank and said, “Take what you need, pay no attention to those dogs.” Gulp, OK. Then, he and his friends invited me to sit down to lunch and supplied me with sandwiches and coffee before sending me on my way.
“How much do I owe you fella’s?”
“Nothing. We enjoyed talking with a new face and up there in New Hampshire, you’d probably do the same for us as we passed through.” I had to think about that for a while. Well, I certainly would now, as I departed, rocking my wings with a new sense of camaraderie.
I’d stayed on the ground longer than I anticipated, burning up valuable daylight, but the acquaintances that I’d made had been worth every minute of it. Finally, after hours of flying, I arrived in a new state, Missouri, and landed at Kennett Memorial for fuel and a kidney break, before pressing on to Sikeston Memorial just south of Cape Girardeau.
Again, the sun was setting; I was somewhat tired, but had enjoyed nearly 500 miles of flying today.
Sikeston had been a Primary training field during WWII, utilizing Stearmans at the Park School of Aeronautics. Many of the same hangars still existed that were in old framed pictures in the lobby, showing young men standing by new Stearmans. The next morning dawned windy and cool as a newly hired line-boy and I dragged the Cub from her hangar.
Now I knew why I had packed warm weather gear for this November flight. He stood amazed as he watched me prop the Cub, while standing near the tail of the airplane to help hold it in place. “I’ve never seen this” he said, “why didn’t you use the starter?” I explained the intricacies of the “Armstrong” starting system, just before I taxied out into a blustery wind.
The early morning takeoff was uneventful, climbing out over town with much improved performance from the previous days hot temperatures. The airplane felt light and the stick responsive. We leveled at 2,000 feet, about 1,000 feet below the overcast and enjoyed nearly 10 miles of visibility in light turbulence.
Within 15 minutes, with my camera ready, we approached the mighty Mississippi River, her wide flood plains and the state of Illinois. The topography here is fascinating, presenting natural features that I’m unaccustomed to.
We were cruising just north of Cairo, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers where the states of Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri converge. And just to our north, up the Mississippi River lay the Shawnee National Forest. The sky was clearing and the visibility improving with much commercial activity on the water below. It was a beautiful sight.
I was fascinated by what lay beneath my wings. As I prepared to snap a few shots though, I was jolted to reality as the Cub violently pitched down, started to vibrate badly and loose significant power. My mis-firing little Continental 65 was running very rough, on what felt like three cylinders.
My first thought was that I had a stuck exhaust valve, but it wasn’t quite aggressive enough, as I’d experienced this several years ago in my Cessna 140. I was able to maintain altitude at about 50 mph as I scanned the area for a place to put her down and noted the wind direction. Large flat fields were abundant, so my options were many, but we were still flying with a good margin.
I re-trimmed, scanned the cockpit and checked the fuel shut off, the fuel level, the primer, the magneto switch and tried carb heat, but nothing seemed to remedy our problem. I was perplexed, when, as quickly as it appeared, it went away and the engine was running as smoothly as it had been. I’d drained a generous sample of fuel from the tank during the pre-flight, but had found no contaminant.
It did take a while to get my heart rate down though, as I continued on my way towards Harrisburg, Illinois, watching my engine intently. Once home, we pulled the balking cylinder and discovered an improperly installed valve seat.
The rest of the day proceeded uneventfully, as I flew just north of beautiful Patoka Lake and the Hoosier National Forest to land and refuel in French Lick, and later Greensburg, Indiana, southeast of Indianapolis. Skirting the Cincinnati TCA to the north, we flew in search of Dayton Wright Brothers Field (MGY) in Ohio.
With just one north/south runway and a very strong, gusty wind from the west, I was unable to land on runway 20. The conditions were such, that I ran out of aileron and rudder, as the tires chirped sideways across the asphalt, creating side load.
I determined that a landing here would be risky and inevitably terminate with an embarrassing ground loop. On the go-around though, I noticed a luxurious carpet of unobstructed grass on the west side and decided to utilize it. After all, that’s what Cubs do!
On the FBO ramp, I was greeted by a group of young corporate pilots, flying King Airs and other turboprops; a magnificent collection of beautifully maintained airplanes. They were interested in the Cub, but more so by my landing on the grass. A quick poll revealed that none of my young aviator friends had ever landed on anything other than a paved runway.
Additional fuel, a Coke and a sandwich provided by one of the corporate pilots from his airplane galley and I was on my way. But not before I entertained them by propping the Cub.
The next leg of our flight encountered rising terrain and more densely populated areas, as we flew south of Columbus, Ohio, between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, to the east of Akron-Canton and Youngstown, Ohio into Pennsylvania. Our course brought us just west of the Allegheny River and Allegheny Plateau as we continued towards New York.
Our first New York landing was at Olean (OLE), where we encountered winter like conditions of turbulence, lowered ceilings and scattered snow showers as we flew past peaks reaching as high as 2,400 feet.
I was beginning to think that this late autumn, early winter flight was a mistake, as we were tossed about considerably, flying through these mountains. Conditions improved significantly though, as we flew south of the Finger Lakes Region, past Elmira and landed in Binghamton, NY for the night.
I’d planned our trip home, specifically to pass over the Susquehanna River and into Binghamton at Link Field, as this was the location of my first airline job. It was a sentimental journey of sorts. I’d been hired here at Commuter Airlines in 1974 to fly their Navajo’s, Metroliners and Dumod Infinite II’s with passengers to Newark, JFK and Washington National.
But what pleased me most, was flying their Beech 18’s on the night mail runs. This was my first exposure to radial engines and tail wheel airplanes, that would become a lifelong interest. Although nearly 30 years had passed since I’d been here last, it may as well have been a lifetime, as nothing at the airfield was the same.
The terminal building, the hangar, the access roads were all different and I recognized nothing. On my way downtown, I was unable to locate the Valley View Motel that I’d lived in and dinner that I’d eaten at as a young pilot, with my sights set on a bright future with the airlines. I suspect that they’d been razed.
Unlike my previous stops, the FBO at Binghamton was large, impersonal, expensive and more suited to servicing large corporate equipment. Understandably, from their viewpoint, the Cub and her nine gallons of gas were a nuisance. I really had no business being here and wished now that I’d spent the night at Tri Cities, just to the south and left Binghamton in my memory.
For the first time on my trip, I needed to copy an ATIS, contact clearance delivery, contact ground control, then tower and finally departure control before departing and leaving Binghamton in my past. I guess you can’t go home again!
My outlook improved quickly though, as the scenery became more interesting. We flew over the beautiful Catskill Mountains, some reaching as high as 4,000 feet, in a very desolate and rugged section of New York State. Just south of Albany, NY, we flew over the historic Hudson River and into Massachusetts where the sky was blue, the winds fair and I now recognized the terrain without a chart.
With a significant tailwind, I stretched the fuel on my penultimate leg, flying into southern Vermont, over the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire. At Jaffrey, NH, I met airport owners and good friends, Lee and Harvey Sawyer, awaiting my return with my new Cub.
After a quick lunch, topping the tank, and letting Harvey fly the Cub around the patch, it was back into the air for my final 20-minute leg home to Brookline, New Hampshire. I was met by airport owner Tom Moran upon landing, who helped me secure the Cub into her slot in the hangar. Her final resting place you might say.
As I walked from the hangar with Tom, I told him of my adventure and the wonderful people that I’d met along the way. I concluded that those who participate in General Aviation in America are alive and well. I knew this anyway, but it had certainly been reinforced.
Six days on the road and four full days of flying. Twenty-six hours aloft and 1,600 nautical miles over mostly unfamiliar terrain and what do you suppose I did the next day? Yup. I came out and flew the Cub! Thanks to everyone along the way who helped make my trip a whole lot easier.